I had the recent pleasure of being asked on BBC Radio Berkshire to talk about why people get angry at football matches.
The presenter Sarah Walker said that she finds herself unable to keep calm at the match that her children are playing in, and ends up shouting and getting angry with the team and the officials. She says she doesn’t need anger management help generally.
If you prefer to listen to the interview click here.
Otherwise here is a brief summary of subjects covered and some extra stuff.
For the purposes of this article I am not looking at the aggression and issues at hand when we discuss football hooligans and pre planned violence at football matches. This is about the emotions that come out for normal fans when they are in the stands cheering/or not their team on. There is a special note for parents watching their children at the bottom.
Football has a rich history of allowing us normal people to live out our tribal boundaries and pride through the actions of 11 players on the pitch rather than by getting armed to the teeth and actually going into battle. As such, we attach to our team emotionally and invest the effort they put in, the skill with which they attack and defend and the result they bring us, as being part of our own sense of self worth. It’s an emotional event to watch a game of football. Even more so if we have got up, dressed, made our way to the ground and are standing with several thousand others who feel a similar way.
So what causes us to get angry with the team that represents us and causes us to let those emotions spill out into less than helpful words of motivation/abuse?
I know some of these players get paid more for a week of training than many of us get paid for a year of work. That is the nature of the business that is football. It does not make them any less human and it certainly does not make them infallible.
The pain we are feeling as we go one down, or a player misses a vital pass is the pain of our own expectations not being met.
Learning to manage our expectations and enjoy the game for what it is…wait for it….a game… is a really healthy perspective to take.
Excitement is that amazing blending of two of our core feelings. Happiness and fear. If the fear levels are in the right proportion to the happiness, then we have an entirely enjoyable experience. If our fear takes over then we can get over excited, and our behaviour can change. We rarely change for the better since we have slipped from happy optimism to unhappy pessimism, and do not know how to bring ourselves back without the help of the 11 players on the pitch.
Learning to control our excitement and keep it at an appropriate level is a really good skill to develop. One helpful tip we share with our clients is to use 7/11 breathing. Simply stop what you’re doing, relax your belly, and breathe deeply from your abdomen. Inhale for 7 seconds and then exhale for a count of about 11. Repeat four or five times. It works. It helps, and you can enjoy a healthy level of excitement.
The Control Freak
One of our 5 Pillars of Stress (see here) is our inability to let go of control, and in a football match you are completely out of control. Despite having consciously handed over control of our happiness to 11 independent minded humans on the pitch, there are many of us that still cannot let go of control. Thus the advice, tips, and general insults we hurl at them as they pass us, are all designed to let our emotions out and try to garner a tiny bit of control out of the potentially helpless situation.
Getting our perspective at the beginning of the game to reflect that we know we have no control over the end result, will help us regulate our emotional response when things are not going our way.
Our judgements and criticisms…they are about us
Have you ever heard the phrase “others’ judgements and criticisms of us tell us more about them than it does about us?”
This comes directly from Jungian psychology and is rooted in the assertion that our internal landscape, our own thoughts and feelings, are being projected onto others. More specifically, when we criticise and judge others we are projecting the parts about our own personality that, on some level, we find it difficult to own.
When we judge and criticise others we are effectively saying “ I don’t like it when you give me an insight into my own behaviour… that I try to hide.”
To be more specific, when you are shouting at the young man on the left wing for being “lazy and not committing” you are really saying “ why can you do that when I won’t allow myself to behave like that.”
It’s a complex situation and to get around it often involves several mental and emotional double backflips. The end result, however, if you can get there is this….”I don;t like to see that on the pitch because I can be like that sometimes…may be elsewhere in my life, and when I behave in a lazy way, I don’t like myself or my behaviour very much so I hide it and deny it.”
Pushing ourselves to accept our own faults and understand that we are not, and do not need to pretend to be perfect, helps stop us coming into unnecessary conflict with others.
Parents, when you stand on the touchline shouting at the players, the ref and possibly your own children remember this…everything I have described above gets intensified when we attempt to relive our own lives vicariously through our children.
They cannot change your failure to try hard at school. They cannot be what you always wanted to be. All they can be is themselves. Allow them that, encourage it. They will thank you for it one day.